The Four Roles of an Online Instructor

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To get us all on the same page, below is an article that outlines a framework will use to consider the various aspects of implementing an online discussion in your course. In the article, the author outlines four roles that help categorize most of the work performed by an online instructor: Pedagogical, Social, Managerial & Technical. It's often the case that instructors implement an online discussion for reasons encompassed by the pedagogical and/or social role. However, it's important to consider that all four dynamics are at play.

The Role of the Online Instructor/Facilitator, Zane L. Berge, Ph.D.

Let's now look at the four roles in a bit more detail and discuss some of the main instructional objectives and/or considerations that fall under each role:

Pedagogical Role - Create discussions that focus energy on critical concepts, principles, and skills.

Key considerations:

There are a number of ways to address these key considerations. First, you can make efforts to integrate the online discussion and the in-class time as much as possible so that students understand and benefit from both environments. You might also use the discussion board as a source for in-class lecture/discussion topics, and mine the discussion for concepts that aren't clear and need to be rediscussed in class. Also consider replacing some existing assignments in your syllabus in order to account for the time spent in online discussions. Finally, assessment is one aspect of online discussions that spans the pedagogical and managerial roles. On the front end, developing an assessment strategy forces thorough consideration of pedagogical goals. Then, as implementation begins, assessments rubrics become an important managerial tool for both students and instructors (see managerial role for more details).

These articles and resources explore more pedagogical elements of online discussions:

Social Role - Foster a friendly, social environment to promote learning and sharing

Key considerations:

How can we address these considerations? First, we can encourage students to reply to each others' questions, to work in teams, and to report back to class with information from the online discussion. We can also post rules and model behavior for the type of interactions that you expect (how formal, informal, etc.) and what type of etiquette accompanies these. Allow students enough time to digest, reflect, and produce their own analytical responses and thoughts. As mentioned above, grade for participation, and encourage those who don't talk as much in class to participate more online.

Review these articles to dig deeper into the social dimension of online discussions:

Managerial Role - Clarify discussion objectives, timelines, and procedural rules

Key considerations:

To do this, establish an FAQ section about course procedures, expectations, discussion rules, and other likely administrative questions. By doing this in the course site itself and in a discussion forum, you can respond to questions that might come up over and over again in a space that is visible to the whole class, avoiding the need to address each similar question on an individual basis. This will also be a way to provide examples of good posts, model expectations for language and style of posts. We can include detailed guidelines and rubrics on how the posts will be assessed and make these accessible on the course site. To manage your time as an instructor (and therefore to manage the discussion more easily), set up online office hours or a time block during which you'll be active in the discussion forums when you can facilitate the threads and respond to student questions. In line with replacing other assignments in your syllabus to allow for more student focus on the online discussions (as mentioned under the pedagogical role), consider requiring a "discussion portfolio" semester-long assignment that students would be required to curate and submit. This puts many of the discussion responsibilities and management on the students and requires them to be acutely aware of the expectations of the discussion threads/posts in order to hand in a "good" portfolio.

Review these articles to further investigate the managerial role of online discussions:

Technical Role - Make students comfortable with the learning management system, tools, and software

Key considerations:

The technological role can be tricky because 1) we often take for granted that this generation of students is well informed and equipped enough to work with any online learning tool, and 2) it's impossible to plan for every possible technical glitch that might pop up. In order to help navigate this role, we offer as much support in advance of the first post/discussion as we can. Provide instructions online or as a handout that explain how to access the course discussion site. Keep these instructions simple, and to the extent possible, link all navigation through one main course site to streamline any navigation for your students; if you use multiple learning management tools or systems in your course (for the discussions or for the course as a whole), funnel these links and access points through one main course portal. Walk through the process of how to access the online discussions and post to them during class, on your own with your student or with the help of STS (Software Training for Students) or another UW campus resource. Lastly, create a training resource page on the course site that lists ways for students to find support and referrals to on-campus support services.

How-to Videos:

Supplementary Readings and Resources

Week 1 Activities

Connect and Share Connect & Share

Activity 1

What comes to mind when you think of online discussions? Our past experiences and ideas will no doubt inform the a variety of feelings and opinions (good or bad) we hold on the topic. To help capture our collective thoughts, let's play word association!

The following link will take you to our WikiSpaces site. Take just a few moments to type the words that you associate with online discussions (remember, good and bad). The process will be cathartic and help us key in on important dynamics as we move through this topic. Go to the Wiki!

Activity 2

Time for our first discussion! Let's take a minute to get to know one another and share what it is we hope to achieve in this online discussion module. The link below will take you to a discussion board. Make a post and introduce yourself. Share your name, department/field of study, a quick description of what you hope to explore as we continue with this topic, and something interesting that you learned from any of the Week 1 readings. Go to the discussion!